On the 9-14 July 2023, the 18th International Pragmatics (IPrA) Conference took place in Brussels, Universitẻ Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

The Organisers were expecting 1,300 in-person and quite a number of online participants. With only a few exceptions, this Conference was that huge and it was impossible to attend all the presentations that an individual participant would have liked to.

The humour section was attended by many listeners, obviously to relish something entertaining, but the presentations were very professional and no jokes included. Mr Alexander Sparrow, for example,  (‘Please laugh: illocutionary acts as a theory of meaning for jokes’), spoke about how illocutionary force, that is, the included or produced content brings about the intended meaning, which may be a warning, a promise or similar senses. This was a theoretical preliminary to the speaker’s message that humorous acts differ but all rest on an overt or covert intention and its effective resolution though a reference to a genuinely held opinion. This speaker overviewed different forms of humour, such as jokes, anecdotes, opinion, (for instance, a comedian’s thoughts on a given topic), jokes in fiction, which may be based on an unproven assumption about something and passed off as truth. Their meaning does not change. The meaning of a joke is “please laugh” ; the primary goal is a lie as a deception and then a joke as laughter. Mr Sparrow ended up in saying that political comedians may mean more than “please laugh”.

Two speakers from the University of the Aegean, Dr Giorgos Giakoumakis and Prof Marianthi Georgalidou, spoke about ‘Verbal humour as a discourse strategy in the environment of adult education;…’. They differentiated between humour targeting persons and humour with cultural targets and then turned to humour in education. Separating a speaker’s humour in the classroom and humour in interaction, these speakers pointed out how challenging this may be to an educator. But their examples showed that students themselves create humorous issues in the classroom in discussing, for instance,  the meaning of words, (And pastries? What is the word for them? – Paste |bu[:t   - [for sweet pastries (.) chocolate pastries. – yes Paste, >but they don’t ea[:t< - [pastries= pastries(hh) )everybody laughs, the teacher laughs out loud)). Similarly, humour can be produced in the classroom in discussing social acts and involving the lecturer, while not bypassing national allusions.

In a section on typical subjects of pragmatics, such as stance taking and social interaction, a presentation by three speakers, Ms Gill Newman, Dr Anna Inbar and Dr Leon Shor, Dr Leon Shor emphasized how gesture functions in face-to-face interaction and what corpus data tell us about the meaning of gestures, which are always culture-specific. In this video-illustrated presentation, inappropriate, extreme and rejected gestures were singled out. The speaker further focused on the effectiveness of individual gestures, such as those of a doctor when coaxing a person away from fertility treatment, the gesturing of a friend of the PM’s wife and that of  young couple. An individual attitude merged with the cultural context in all of these cases. Gestures were said to be co-expressive with verbal constructions, but the researcher’s problems lay in analyzing repeated gestures, cases of explicit negation and negative self-construction.

In a presentation, ‘Affective stancetaking in mediated political speeches of ‘Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen’ (The German Green Party)’, Mrs Clara Kindler and Prof. Cornelia Müller focused on  collective, emotional and multimodal stance of gesturing, movement dynamics, perceptual effects, patterns of affective engagement and multimodal stancetaking. Their video illustrations showed how official people  make a ;point in a public speech, emphasise the essential to the speaker, manage their subject and emotional stance and highlight the message point.

Presentations were very well grouped per subject at this Conference. In the language section of pragmatics, on the 13th of July, Dr John Liontas and Dr Siying Li spoke about ‘Developing idiomatic Competence among Chinese EFL learners:…’ This presentation, based on colourful illustrative material,  gave a perfect piece of advice in the learning of idioms: “use idioms competently and accurately”, as the use of idioms is a delicate matter.  Prof. Marija L. Drazdauskiene’s presentation focused on the way evaluative adjectives are used in genuine English and how they happen to be used by foreigners. On the basis of the semantic analysis of the  meaning of the words, this speaker showed that experiential collocations with evaluative adjectives are mostly based on a deep semantic bond between the words in collocation (a permanent job, a constant friend,  a garish show, showy colours, a perfect example, etc) but as the experiential collocations turn into attitudinal/evaluative, the deep semantic bond disappears, a weak semantic link remains (magnificent drawings, vibrant hues, brilliant makers, etc)  and only experiential link, often of subjective character, between the words (terrific insights, fascinating stories, marvelous people, etc.) appears to be traced. As such factors as animate, inanimate, concrete, abstract, action, process, etc  also matter in collocation, the user can be said never to be free in choosing the words in collocation.

The 18th international Conference of Pragmatics was very well organized and the Solbosch Campus  of the ULB was welcoming if only more distant rooms were difficult to find. The stay in Brussels was pleasant and nice. Brussels is a clean, cultured and disciplined city and it was relaxing days there even when a presentation kept one thinking. The central offices of the European Union – the EU Parliament and the European Commission – looked nice from a distance and the inscription on a wall of the building of the European Commission, “REPowerEU”  read like a reminder of every citizen’s duty.

I was very grateful to the Organisers for the invitation to this Conference, at which I met my acquaintances at the IPrA, some of the speakers whose papers were on the Reference list of my presentation and many nice new acquaintances, who made the Conference dinner and my stay in Brussels a major event of the year.